Medically Reviewed By: Dr. Patricia Sullivan MD, MPH

cross stitched heart organ to represent the heart and how cocaine effects it cocaine heart attack

Table of Contents

The Truth About Cocaine Heart Attacks

The understanding of cocaine’s effects on the heart is well-known, from years of doctors dealing with patients experiencing complications from its use, including cocaine heart attacks. An association exists between cocaine and beta-blockers because of frontline treatment. Moreover, the risk of a cocaine-induced heart attack increases every time you take the drug.

Signs of heart damage from drugs like cocaine can persist for years after the cessation of use. Many cocaine abusers have suffered cardiac arrest, or close calls with it, due to the compulsive nature to do more of the drug associated with cocaine addiction.

If you’re suffering from heart problems and cannot kick your cocaine habit, you don’t need to suffer alone.

If you are experiencing cocaine addiction and are having trouble stopping use, don’t lose hope. Call us at (888) 906-0952, and we can guide you through this process of healing and starting the process of recovery from cocaine addiction.

An Overview Cocaine: Things You Might Already Know

Cocaine is a stimulant with a powerful intoxicating effect. It is made from coca plant leaves, and the plant is native to varying regions of South America. The use of coca leaves for stimulation has been going on for over 4000 years. Once processed for consumption, it looks like a light, white, and fine crystal powder.

Cocaine is usually cut with other substances, which increases the amount that dealers can sell to users. It is usually mixed with talcum powder, cornstarch, and flour to stretch the drug so dealers can make more money. Street names for cocaine include blow, snow, coke, crack, and rock.

Sometimes it is mixed with other dangerous substances such as amphetamines, fentanyl, and other synthetic opioids. Mixing cocaine with opioids helps reduce the intense high felt by pure cocaine while capitalizing on the drug’s euphoric effects. However, overdose risk is dramatically increased when mixing opioids with cocaine. It is especially risky when users do not realize their cocaine is cut with these substances.

The Historical Use of Cocaine

Rarely is cocaine used for legal reasons. It can be used as a local anesthetic for specific surgeries. However, the recreational use of cocaine is illegal. Cocaine is the second most abused illegal drug after marijuana, and most individuals with substance abuse disorders in emergency rooms across the USA are there due to cocaine.

Cocaine used to be accessible and found in many things produced in the 1800s. It was found in drops for aching teeth, used to treat nausea, and was part of the original Coca-Cola soda recipe because of its energizing effects. These products also brought to light its addictive potential and led to its criminalization.

The Effects of a Cocaine High

Cocaine affects dopamine, which is a neurotransmitter in control of reward and movement. When users are high, they experience a burst of energy, joy and happiness, irritability, and acute mental stimulation or alertness. It causes sound, touch, and visual hypersensitivity, along with paranoia usually seen as an excessive distrust of other individuals.

Some users find that cocaine helps them perform tasks quicker and improves cognition, while others experience the opposite. Users that partake in cocaine in large quantities or for extended periods often exhibit violent and unpredictable behaviors.

Cocaine is an epidemic worldwide and is abused by over 20 million people. In 2012, 639,000 people in the USA ages 12 years and older used cocaine, with 1,800 individuals using it for the first time every day.

Cocaine’s Direct Effects On The Heart – Our Most Vital Organ

Cocaine increases heart rate and blood pressure, and this leads to major complications over time. Using cocaine with alcohol increases these risks because alcohol increases the amount of cocaine in the bloodstream.

Cocaine can cause arrhythmia, which is an irregular heartbeat. It can cause heart attacks since cardiac arrest, and cocaine abuse has a well-known correlation. Cardiomyopathy, which is a chronic heart muscle disease, commonly develops with cocaine abuse. Damage and disease within the body’s circulatory system, specifically blood vessels, is a common sign of heart damage from cocaine.

Other Cocaine Effects on Heart

While heart disease, cardiac arrest, and cocaine abuse are popularized, cocaine use can also cause coronary spasms. Coronary spasms are when the wall muscles of arteries are tightened which can block blood flow to the heart.

Chronic abuse of cocaine results in an increase in the mass of the left ventricle, which is a catalyst to the signs of heart damage. This developing abnormality in anatomy is troublesome and destructive.

Overconsumption and prolonged use can cause cystic lesions on the heart, known as medial cystic necrosis. This can cause the heart walls to begin to degenerate. Chronic use also causes inflammation of the heart wall. All of these things dramatically increase your chances of suffering a cocaine-induced heart attack.

Cocaine’s effects on the heart are dramatic, damaging, and hard to reverse once they’ve occurred. The only surefire way to avoid signs of heart damage from drugs like cocaine is to practice total abstinence.

Cocaine and Beta Blockers

Beta-blockers are medications that are typically prescribed to manage irregular heart rhythms. They’re believed to help to prevent heart attacks. The risk of a heart attack increased as a result of cardiac arrest from cocaine abuse.

Since cocaine causes dramatic effects on the heart, it’s no surprise that many medical interventions have been developed to increase heart health when signs of heart damage from drugs are present.

Since cocaine interrupts the reuptake of dopamine and norepinephrine, it causes heart rate irregularities, tightened ventricles, lower oxygen levels in the heart, and elevated blood pressure. These problems can be addressed by linking cocaine and beta-blockers in medical interventions.

Possible Risks of Beta-Blockers

The use of beta-blockers in cocaine patients is controversial because this class of medication can cause serious damage if not monitored closely. Since cocaine affects both alpha and beta receptors, receiving a beta-blocker may cause an alpha blockade in the heart. This can overwhelm a patient and induce a cocaine-related heart attack.

You need to carefully discuss using beta-blockers and cocaine with your doctor to make sure you’re educated about the dangers of this type of therapy.

Alpha Blockade, Cardiac Arrest, and Cocaine Abuse

When considering beta-blockers and cocaine abuse, keeping the risks in mind is important. It’s tempting to use alpha-blockers as a cocaine frontline treatment since it lowers blood pressure, can correct irregular heartbeats, loosens arteries, and causes vein constriction. However, this improvement of the blood’s ability to flow is not without consequences in light of cocaine’s effects on the heart.

Sometimes the administration of beta-blockers with cocaine use causes what is known as unopposed alpha stimulation, which is the opposite of what is intended. Unopposed alpha stimulation leads to skyrocketed blood pressure and the immediate worsening of vasoconstriction, which puts the patient at risk of a cocaine-related heart attack.

An alpha blockade event refers to the stimulation of both kinds of beta receptors, and in the presence of a stimulant like cocaine, causes the heart to go into overdrive. There are two types of beta receptors: those that cause the heart to contract and those that cause the heart to relax.

Effects of Beta-Blockers

If a doctor isn’t careful, introducing a beta-blocker with cocaine that stimulates heart muscle and systems can cause extreme contraction. It will be irreversible even with the administration of the beta-blocker that causes relaxation.

CCocaine’stendency to cause constriction is to blame, and the patient is then likely to suffer cardiac arrest due to cocaine abuse.

The overuse of the beta-blocker that causes relaxation of cardiac tissue can also lead to a cocaine heart attack. In the presence of these drugs, the heart becomes too relaxed and doesn’t keep up with proper blood circulation. Cocaine with beta-blockers can work, but it’s a delicate balancing act.

Cocaine Toxicity and Cocaine Heart Attacks

While cocaine high affects the entire body, the most impacted physiology is that of the heart. When a cocaine overdose occurs, the signs of heart damage from drugs are the most important indicators.

Cocaine affects the reuptake of catecholamines to nerve endings. Catecholamines are hormones produced by the adrenal glands and include dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine. You might recognize these as neurotransmitters, and they are. They are released by the adrenal glands on the kidneys into the bloodstream and affect the brain’s functionality, resulting in an increased risk of cardiac arrest with cocaine abuse.

Additional Effects of Cocaine

The effects of cocaine on the heart can quickly lead to a cocaine-induced heart attack. Cocaine toxicity occurs when a user overconsumes the drug or when they’re smuggling the drug into a body cavity. Users sometimes stuff large amounts of cocaine in their rectum or vagina to transport it undetected. These bags can rupture, and cocaine is absorbed into the bloodstream in massive quantities.

Cocaine toxicity in its most extreme form can result in hyperthermia, which is a dramatic and uncontrollable increase in body temperature. Body temperatures can soar as high as 113 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes irreparable damage to many-body systems, including the heart.

Even in the presence of chest pains and irregular heartbeats, users are overcome with the compulsion to continue to use. The specific way their drive to stay high is stimulated increases the risk of cocaine’s effects on the heart as users are at risk of overdosing.

Cocaine abuse resulted in 505,224 emergency room visits in 2012, roughly 40% of all drug-related admissions.

Reaching Out: How to Get Help for Cocaine Abuse

The first step to beginning the path to recovery from cocaine abuse is reaching out for help. Our resources have helped thousands of people overcome addiction. The question is, are you ready to leave behind this drug that is destroying your life.

Our treatment partners can help you address problematic addictive behaviors. The sooner cocaine use is stopped, the better.

If you’re not sure you’re ready but would like to ask questions about cocaine treatment options, please give us a call today. The call is confidential, and there’s no obligation.

The Cocaine use helpline is free and confidential. Dial (888) 906-0952 and press 1.

Sources of Information

Susana Spiegel

Susana Spiegel

Susana has experience writing about addiction, treatment, mental health, and recovery. She holds a Bachelors in Arts of Theology from GCU, and has a deep empathy for those who are struggling with addiction, as she is in recovery herself.

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